Boffins Gone Bonkers: The Best Science Pranks

Published March 1, 2015
Updated February 5, 2018

Robert Wood Plays Trick On Landlady…Because He Can

We move on to Robert Williams Wood, an American physicist who made newspaper headlines for his pranks as often as he did for his scientific achievements. Wood once presented a piece of metal as a fireball that came from the sky, and on another occasion he constructed a giant insect fossil and left it in a quarry for students to discover. But Wood played his most memorable prank on his turtle-owning landlady in Paris. And it involved a whole bunch of turtles.

Robert Wood Prank

When Wood wasn’t busy with pranks, he occasionally made pivotal contributions to the field of optics.

Wood went out and bought a number of turtles varying in size. He then proceeded to replace his landlady’s tortoise every day with others of increasingly larger sizes. Astounded at her pet that seemed to be growing by the day, the landlady came to Wood for advice. Wood quickly suggested that she contact the press. Intrigued by the story, several journalists started coming to her home every day with a tape measure to see her pet tortoise grow. None of them thought that it might not be the same animal.

Eventually, Wood reached the biggest turtle he had so…what to do but continue the prank, this time in reverse? No harm, no foul. Or in this case, no lost turtle.

Radu Alexander
Radu is a freelance writer who specializes in historical, scientific and offbeat topics.